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City Hall and EWEB Riverfront Taken Together

February 1st, 2013 by dk

Eugene City Council didn’t take the easy way out. They didn’t cut the baby in half. They forged a bold path forward, and they should be thanked.

For the past year, city staff has been exploring two options for Eugene’s new City Hall. One architect argued for a renovation and update of the best elements of the 1962 structure. Another architect made the case for scrapping the old City Hall and scraping the block for new construction.

Does City Hall need a makeover or a do-over? That was the question before the town’s leaders last week. They could have split the difference, but they didn’t. Good for them.

They gave their full-throated endorsement for “adaptive reuse,” preserving the distinctive contours of the old City Hall and challenging architects to update the structure without losing its heritage. Eugene will recycle one of its signature buildings.

It won’t be easy. And that’s good news.

Design professionals love a challenge. One architect put it this way, “We’re not only problem-solvers. We’re problem seekers! Over and over, the most distinctive features of a successful building came about in response to problems designers encountered along the way.”

Politicians don’t typically love such challenges. Voters expect results. The burden of public trust, measured in four-year increments, makes bold moves hard to take. All the more reason they should be congratulated for taking a risky path forward.

Nobody wants to see public funds wasted, so frugality is the first directive. Indeed, one reason the remodel option prevailed was its promise of more “bang for the buck.” But frugality has another name: elegance. Refinement demonstrates how small details can make a big difference. Elegant solutions involve the fewest moving parts. Doing more with less can result in durability, longevity, beauty and respect.

When citizens see value in what’s been built with their tax dollars, everyone wins. The challenge now moves to the designers. Teach a dime to sing like a dollar.

The pieces of downtown Eugene are now in place for what artists call a Big Move. In this case, the move begins by not moving. Keeping City Hall in the downtown core brings opportunities that commercial developments can’t deliver as well.

Many of those were articulated well by Eugene City Councilor Mike Clark in a commentary essay published in The Register-Guard less than two months ago. It deserves another read.

Clark advocated that we move City Hall to EWEB’s riverfront headquarters. His position on City Hall didn’t carry the day, but his ideas retain their merit. Many can be woven into our plans as we move forward together.

Eugene Water and Electric Board has been busily working for several years on a master plan for its riverfront property’s eventual redevelopment. Their plan will be presented to the Eugene Planning Commission in a public hearing this Tuesday. The Eugene City Council will review it later this year.

We can consider these two projects together, looking for synergies and eliminating redundancies between them. Clark’s best ideas for the EWEB property should be found homes in the months ahead.

Let’s promise ourselves an enclosed, year-round farmers market and adjacent festival space. It might be incorporated into the EWEB master plan’s public use requirements. Or it could be part of City Hall’s redesign. Or the city might engineer a swap with the county for its “butterfly lot” across from the Park Blocks.

Let’s create some sort of visual cue for Ferry Street Bridge drivers that they’ve “arrived” in Eugene. Whether they are driving from Portland or from Clark’s district in north Eugene, their entrance into the downtown district could be much more inviting. Eugene Hotel’s neon sign dominates that skyline — and you can’t stay there.

Let’s abandon our illusions that 8th Avenue could ever become a so-called “Great Street” and celebrate that 5th Avenue has been becoming exactly that while we weren’t looking.

Let’s use the southeast corner of the EWEB property to connect with the University of Oregon. EWEB’s steam plant building is just waiting to become a brew pub.

Let’s take all the best ideas and find good homes for each of them.


Don Kahle ( is the executive director for the local chapter of American Institute of Architects, but these views are his own. Information about EWEB’s Riverfront master plan is at

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